The Fourth of July is less than three weeks away, and already organizers of the Tacoma Freedom Fair are focusing on next year’s event.
But they’re not focusing on planning for it so much as worrying whether it will happen at all.
As columnist Kathleen Merryman pointed out Monday, the economic effects of the recession have affected Tacoma’s annual waterfront festival as much as most every other facet of life. The private organizers are short $330,000 for this year’s festival and concerned that they won’t be able to raise the $1 million in donations and in-kind contributions they need to mount next year’s event.
Tacoma’s not unique in struggling to fund this kind of community festival. Seattle almost lost its only Fourth of July fireworks show – the Family 4th at Lake Union – in 2010 when its big sponsor pulled out. Fortunately, 300 businesses and individuals came up with the $500,000 needed to put on the event. This year, Starbucks, Microsoft and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce are major sponsors.
But Tacoma doesn’t have that kind of donor juice, and the Freedom Fair is a pricier event with the air show component. While that part of the festival is a big crowd-pleaser, maybe one cost-cutting measure would be to put it on hold until the funding outlook improves. Other economies would also mean organizers need to raise less money.
The main reason people come to the Ruston Way waterfront on July 4 is to stake out a good spot to watch the fireworks. The air show and the other features of Freedom Fair are nice extras, but they’re not the main event.
The Freedom Fair’s organizer, the private Tacoma Events Commission, is hoping more businesses will step up as sponsors and that more visitors will donate. (Charging admission isn’t practical given the open venue.) But if that doesn’t raise enough funds, the organizers say next year’s event might be canceled.
They should first give serious consideration to a pared-down event. Once Freedom Fair is canceled for lack of funding, the chances of getting it started up again aren’t good.
Festivals like Freedom Fair, celebrating our nation’s independence, are the kinds of events that help foster community. But if the community isn’t willing to step up and help pay for it, then maybe its time has passed.
It would be a shame if this Tacoma tradition were to fizzle out like a dud firecracker. There would be one upside, however: More police officers would be available to ticket people violating the city’s personal fireworks ban.